full title The Once and Future King
author T. H. (Terence Hanbury) White
type of work Novel
genre Fantasy; heroic epic; satire
time and place written England; 1936–1958
date of first publication 1958. The four books that make up the novel were previously published separately: “The Sword in the Stone” in 1938; “The Queen of Air and Darkness” (published as The Witch in the Wood) in 1939; “The Ill-Made Knight” in 1940; and “The Candle in the Wind” in 1958.
publisher G. P. Putnam’s Sons
narrator The narrator speaks in the third person and is omniscient, or all-knowing. The narrator has access to the thoughts of all the characters and provides commentary on the context of the work, as in the references to Adolf Hitler, Uncle Sam, and Sir Thomas Malory.
point of view In general, the novel oscillates among the points of view of Arthur, Lancelot, and Guenever, though it occasionally assumes the point of view of minor characters such as Elaine and Gawaine.
tone The tone changes throughout the four books of the novel. It is playful and satirical in the first book, but gradually grows darker and more serious
setting (time) The era of King Arthur, a legendary figure in the folklore of medieval England
setting (place) Medieval England and France
protagonist Arthur, who is called the Wart in Book I, is the protagonist of most of the novel, but Lancelot is the protagonist of the third book.
major conflict Arthur struggles to transform feudal England into a civilized country in which strength does not overwhelm justice.
rising action Lancelot’s destructive love affair with Guenever; the jealous conspiracies of the Orkney faction; Arthur’s incestuous affair with Morgause
climax Because the novel is episodic in form, each of its books comes to its own minor climax: in Book I, Arthur’s becoming king; in Book II, Morgause’s seduction of Arthur; in Book III, the blossoming of Lancelot and Guenever’s affair; and in Book IV, the exposing of Lancelot and Guenever’s affair.
falling action Arthur wages war against Lancelot; Mordred seizes power in England
themes The relationship between force and justice; the senselessness of war; the frivolity of knighthood
motifs Myths and legends; blood sports; castles
symbols The Round Table; the Questing Beast; the Holy Grail
foreshadowing Merlyn’s frequent comments about Arthur’s future and death hint at the destruction of Camelot and the demise of Arthur’s reign, which is the most prominent subject of foreshadowing in the novel.